Once, there was a girl who loved saffron. She loved its secrets, its mystery, and best of all, she loved its hint of magic.
After the death of her beloved mother, Nell travels from rural Cornwall to the colour and chaos of Marrakech. Her marriage may be on the rocks, but exploring the heady delights of Moroccan cuisine could help her fulfil her dream of opening her own restaurant.
It's there she meets Amy - a young photographer trying to unravel the story behind her family's involvement in the Vietnam War. The two women develop a close friendship and discover a surprising connection between their own pasts.
This connection will take Nell and Amy on a journey to find their own 'saffron trail' - from the labyrinthine medina and bustle of Moroccan bazaars all the way back home to Cornwall and to the heart of their families' origins.
It's no good you setting your book somewhere foreign and mysterious unless you have the storyline to back it up but from book one Rosanna Ley has always delivered for me and this new release The Saffron Trail proved another exciting, interesting read. The reader is transported from Cornwall to exotic Morocco and with such a beautiful, entrancing front cover I couldn't fail to be sucked into the story of Nell and Amy as they commence a culinary journey which will change their lives forever. The author has done a fantastic job of evoking all the sights, sounds and smells of Morocco and for a reader who has never visited this country I felt I was right there alongside our two main characters as they find themselves and discover secrets that help make sense of the past and alter their futures.
Both women are at a time of transition and change in their lives. Nell has just lost her rock in life – her mother. Having grown up not knowing her father, Nell's mum was the one who was always there for her, who taught her how to be, taught her right from wrong, her rock and anchor. But Nell's mum was hiding things which now need to come to light and Nell needs to uncover these secrets as soon as possible in order to move forward. Nell had as much of an idyllic childhood as you imagine someone would have growing up on a saffron farm on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall but now her security is gone, she feels lost and alone despite only recently marrying Callum. From the outset it was very clear the profound effect her mother's death was having on Nell and the circumstances of her death do nothing to enable Nell to move on with her life as a newly-wed. She feels a deep connection to the saffron farm but is under intense pressure from her husband to give up and sell to make some money. I never really liked Callum throughout the book. He seemed to be putting unnecessary strain on Nell when it was clear she was not ready to sell such a vital part of her childhood. Nell loves saffron just as much as her mother did but she is unfulfilled in her job in a café and wonders now the farm is no longer growing saffron should she just give it all up or find out the answers to questions her mother kept secret. Callum gives Nell a present of a five day cookery course in Morocco for her birthday, she jumps at the chance to escape her problems and evaluate everything. Knowing Morocco is where fields of stunning saffron are grown she can barely contain that glimmer of hope that the information she so desperately seeks may just lie amongst the fields of dazzling saffron.
On arrival at the course Nell meets Amy, a photographer sent to capture all elements of the course and of Morocco itself as she is organising an exhibition back in England. I really liked Amy, she was in a totally different headspace to Nell and because of this I felt she was more together. As the two women bonded she acted as a source of comfort to Nell but also one of reason. Yes she had some problems of her own, her love life was not going the way she wanted it to and having recently broken up with gallery owner Duncan, events manager Jake catches her eye. But he seems to her tastes a bit too forward a bit of a know it all when it comes to Morocco and that is off putting. Amy too has her own reasons for going to Morocco apart from work. Her great Aunt Lillian has a postcard on her mantelpiece sent many years ago from her son Glenn. Having not heard from him in years and his last known whereabouts being Morocco Amy hopes she too can find some answers.
Interspersed throughout the modern day story was the story of Glenn as he travels the world in the 1970's and eventually settles in Morocco. Glenn's story was fascinating and I am glad that chapters alternated between his story and that of the two girls along with snippets from Lillian’s early life. If the story had been written in huge chunks it wouldn't have worked so seamlessly for me but the way Rosanna wrote brought both stories alive and we jumped between time periods extremely easily. The reasons for Glenn leaving America unfurl very slowly and I will not reveal them here but I had never given much thought to these reasons before and the author does a stellar job of recalling and portraying all the emotions Glenn was going through and how he battled with his decisions on a daily basis. Contrasting the Morocco that Glenn and his buddies experiences with that of what Amy and Nell see so many years later enhanced the book immensely and if this had not been done the story could well have fallen flat.
For a long time I couldn't understand how the two strands of the story would connect but then around page 300 something jumped out at me and I got it. When this happened it only confirmed for me what a clever author Rosanna Ley really is. It's amazing how one little thing can totally change your opinion of a book and it's characters. Up until that point the book had been a bit slow to get going but then it all made sense and I realised all this setting up was invaluable to the overall story and really brought things full circle. There were beautiful descriptions littered through out this book of cooking, cuisine, herbs, spices, saffron, market stalls and bustling streets. So much so I felt I was transported from a rain soaked Ireland to a hot dusty Morocco. Some readers my feel there was overkill with descriptive passages but not for me it all just helped me to further understand the characters thoughts, feelings and actions. Some aspects of the ending did annoy me but I suppose on reflection the outcome some of the characters got couldn't have gone any other way if the story was too fit in with what had been uncovered.
This book really is a feast for the senses. Rosanna Ley brings Morocco into the lime light alongside a story that has a lot more depth than one would have at first thought. There is plenty more going on between the covers than the cover or even the blurb would at first suggest. Although it wouldn't be my favourite book by this author I believe Rosanna Ley has once again done herself proud in crafting such a beautiful, exquisite, accomplished novel. I hope she is hard at work on her next book as I am keen to see where she plans to transport her reader to next.
Many thanks to Eve at MidasPr for sending me this book to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.